Reducing a trade deficit with Vietnam is a “very urgent problem” for the U.S. but purchases from Hanoi, including in energy and defense sectors, will surely narrow the gap, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told Tuoi Tre News in an exclusive interview in Hanoi this week.
Secretary Ross and a U.S. business delegation were in Vietnam for an official visit from Friday to Saturday.
He sat down for an interview with Tuoi Tre News on Friday before his meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to witness the signing of five major business agreements and memorandums of understanding.
The visit was also intended to discuss U.S.-Vietnam trade amid Washington’s concerns over a trade deficit with Hanoi.
Talking about the possibility of a U.S.-Vietnam free trade agreement, Secretary Ross stressed the need to reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries first.
“Right now, the total bilateral trade between Vietnam and the U.S. is about $50 billion a year,” the trade secretary said.
“Unfortunately, about $40 billion is the trade deficit to the U.S. because we only sell to Vietnam $10 billion.”
So the U.S. hopes to both increase the total bilateral trade and to make a material reduction in the deficit that it incurs with Vietnam.
“Therefore, it is a very urgent problem for the U.S.,” he said.
“And we had a very constructive session with your trade minister this morning.
“He has a whole detailed program that includes specific steps to reduce deficits in agriculture, in enegy and in other kinds of products.”
When asked by Tuoi Tre News’ reporter about what the U.S. would expect Vietnam to do to secure such a bilateral trade agreement, he replied: “As I say, right now, there is such a big imbalance, which will be very hard to [deal with].”
“So implementing quickly the program that the minister described to me this morning and also implementing some defense purchases surely would help with the deficit,” he told Tuoi Tre News.
There were 17 leading U.S. companies coming to Hanoi on this trip, including Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the multirole combat aircraft F-35.
But at the interview, Secretary Ross said that he did not talk about defense deals this time.
“We were hopeful, but we had scheduling issues with the defense minister, so we did not [discuss any deal],” he said.
“We hope that in the future, that will become an important part of the picture.”
Defense has become a hot topic since former President Barack Obama lifted a half-century-old ban on selling arms to Vietnam in 2016.
Tuoi Tre News has learned that U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will visit Vietnam later this month after finishing his stops in South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.
In Vietnam, Secretary Esper will meet with his counterpart and other key leaders to discuss the regional security environment and ways to enhance their growing defense relationship, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.